All of us have heard at one time or another that the best thing to do when life hands you lemons is make lemonade.
Although not as sour as lemons, MD council hopes to squeeze every last drop out of funding provided by the federal and provincial governments. During its Oct. 27 meeting, council voted to spend a portion of the funding to improve the capability of MD employees to work from home.
Last month, municipalities across Alberta learned there was $436 million available to communities through the Municipal Operating Support Transfer. The funding comes through a partnership between the federal and provincial governments to provide monetary support to municipalities that experienced operating impacts as a result of Covid-19.
The money is intended to help cover losses or deficits incurred as a result of the economic shutdown and is being distributed to municipalities based on population size. The MD has been awarded $305,223.
Since the money is only available until March 31 and must be used to help cover operating expenses, the administration is busy determining what expenditures the funding can support.
Some $20,000 to $25,000 is estimated to be needed for expenses directly related to Covid-19 safety measures, such as cleaning materials, masks and installing Plexiglas in the MD office.
In addition, council voted in favour of spending $50,000 of the MOST funding to improve the ability of employees and council members to work from home.
“We can’t fix everybody all at once, but we’re going to try and do site visits and make sure because repetitive strain injuries are some of the most costly,” said chief administrative officer Troy MacCulloch. “We’re taking an interest in our staff.”
Administration hopes to get the most out of MOST funds through cost-effective measures — for example, giving extra MD office monitors to staff to use at home.
They also noted that the MOST covers contributions to community organizations, as long as the expenditure occurred after April 1, 2020, and before March 31, 2021.
Though the March deadline is quickly approaching, finance director Meghan Dobie saw supporting community operations as a way to use the bulk of the $305,000.
“It will be challenging for us to spend, but hopefully we can push as much out the door for the community organizations and we are meeting our [Covid safety] requirements,” she said.
To that end, future conversation about the possibility of co-operating with the town of Pincher Creek is planned, as well as what portion of the funds could go towards community organizations affected by the pandemic. Further discussion on the topic is scheduled for the Nov. 10 meeting.
In addition to Covid funding, council and administration went over updated procedures for MD staff should another shutdown be mandated.
“Our staff did an awesome job first time around,” said Ms. Dobie. “The second time around, we just want to improve upon that and put a little bit more structure behind it.”
“We’re trying to get ahead of this,” said CAO MacCulloch. “The numbers aren’t going in the right direction, so we’re trying to be proactive.”
Though local cases are quite low, the increased likelihood that people from around the province will be travelling into the area for things like skiing and hockey games increases the likelihood of the novel coronavirus spreading. As such, precautions are necessary.
“The city comes to us,” Coun. Bev Everts said.
The procedure addresses gaps and lessons learned from the March shutdown and provides temporary policy change to help the MD municipal organization continue to function, such as determining which employees can work from the office and when, organizing how operation employees can access necessary equipment without all gathering together, and setting up a weekly meeting to not only get on the same page but also conduct mental health check-ins.
The procedures, said Reeve Brian Hammond, are an important step in staying ahead of the curve.
“This has been with us for months, but we needed something a little more detailed, a little more specific, a little more powerful in terms of your own situation and job description and our own personal situation when you leave from here,” he said.
“To me, this is timely, which is a good step.”
The MD office is currently open but administration is closely monitoring the number of provincial Covid cases and is in communication with its public health inspector.
Council passed first reading of Bylaw 1320-20, which regulates the terms, conditions and rates for water, wastewater and solid waste services provided by the MD.
With a water treatment plant set to be built at Beaver Mines and water lines out to Castle Mountain Resort constructed, the bylaw is a necessary step forward as development begins.
A public hearing for the bylaw will be held Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 1 p.m. In keeping with public health regulations, in-person attendance will be limited but every effort will be made to ensure residents who wish to participate have the opportunity.
“It’s the biggest infrastructure project we’ve ever done in this municipality and this bylaw supports the delivery of service from that infrastructure,” said Coun. Everts. “Absolutely, we want to get it right, and it’s that key piece of communication upfront that sets us up for success.”
Administration will look into options including online participation, helping organize representatives from interested parties or organizations, and potentially holding the public hearing over two days to ensure all residents have a chance to voice their opinions.
Second and third readings of the bylaw will occur during the Dec. 8 council meeting. A draft version of the bylaw can be viewed online at https://bit.ly/MDutility.
Lest we forget
Sergeant-at-arms Fred White and poppy fund chairman Dick Burnham of the Pincher Creek Legion were on hand to present the reeve and council with poppies in preparation for Remembrance Day.
Poppy sales started last Friday, though in a reduced amount given Covid-19 precautions. A Remembrance Day ceremony will be held Nov. 11 but will be limited to 100 participants attending by invitation only.
In order for more community members to watch the proceedings, the Legion will broadcast the ceremony over Facebook Live, and communications with Shaw Cable about covering the event on Channel 12 are also occurring.
More information on the Remembrance Day ceremony can be found on page 8.
A rocky job
As part of an agreement signed back in 1994 with the Hutterite Brethren of Thompson Colony, council approved reclamation work to begin on the sand and gravel pit.
At 3.3 hectares, the gravel pit is too large for the MD to do the reclamation work internally, so a contractor will be hired to complete the task in 2021.
Maximum estimates for reclamation cost are $175,000, though the operations department expects the cost to be closer to $130,000 once the project is put out to tender.
As part of the organizational meeting, Reeve Hammond was reappointed by councillors for another yearly term, with Coun. Rick Lemire again being designated as deputy reeve.
MD of Pincher Creek council will next hold its regular meeting in council chambers Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. Online agenda packages are available at https://bit.ly/MDcouncil.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze